By Sandra Nickel
As I am often asked how I came to love old houses and old neighborhoods, I thought it time to tell my story. You see, I grew up in a family of 6. And until I was 10 years old, we were all in a tiny post WWII 2 bedroom, 1 bath reminiscent of Levittown. My father used to get up long before dawn just to have private time in the bathroom
But going to visit my paternal grandparents was a complete change. They lived in a grand 1890’s Queen Anne with huge rooms, high ceilings, four big bedrooms, 2 full and two half baths…plus an extra shower and toilet in the full basement. It was heaven!
When I close my eyes, I can still see the grand entry foyer: at least 15 feet by 15 feet and no one used the room except to come and go! There was a built-in window seat with storage below for snow boots, etc. Instead of a plain old straight stairway, the entry foyer featured an elegant platform stair. And at the mid-point, there was a doorway that led to another stair down to the kitchen. I thought it was the eighth wonder of the world!
In the living room there was a fireplace with the most interesting hearth: soft green glazed ceramic tile in the shape of little bricks set not in grout but in extremely fine and very white sand. The worst punishments I got from my grandparents were for taking those tiles out and putting them back in, over and over again and occasionally in a different pattern! Nothing they could or would do to me could cure my fascination with that hearth.
The dining room boasted an entire wall of built-in china cabinets and linen storage, the doors sporting leaded glass panes and the drawers brightly polished real brass handles. One of those drawers held the toys my grandparents bought for us to use—as long as we put them away!
In the butler’s pantry was a pull-out flour bin big enough that made a great hideout for hide-and-seek (fortunately, no flour in the bin!). And there were always violets in a tray perched on the long, low radiator in the kitchen.
The memory of that house is as vivid today in 2010 as it was on the long period in between visits. And it must have been on one of those visits that something inside my clicked and I became a card-carrying old house nut. So, you see, when I got into real estate I really had no choice but to follow my heart down the historic home pathway.
In the late 1980’s I was privileged to attend a week of specialized training and am proud to say that I am one of only two REALTORS in Alabama certified by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as an historic home specialist. The other is in Huntsville.
Like many in Midtown, I am “marked” by old houses. It is indeed an affair of the heart!
Sandra Nickel has been listing and selling residential real estate for over 29 years, most with an intense focus on Montgomery’s Midtown neighborhoods. Sandra serves on the Mid-Alabama Coalition for the Homeless, the Cloverdale Business Coalition, Historic Southview, the Volunteer and Information Center, Landmarks Foundation and her own neighborhood Garden District Preservation Association.